My grandfather was a Christian minister, and I loved going to church with my great-grandparents. I loved the grape juice in the sacrament cups. I loved stories about Jesus.
My family didn’t attend church, but after we moved away from my grandparents, my parents would let me go to whatever church had a van who would pick me up. (You can read Joyce’s conversion story if you want to know more about that, but basically her preacher father preached one thing at church and lived completely differently. She thought religion was just Hollywood & wasn’t interested.) One of my favorite things was Vacation Bible School! That’s where I learned to memorize scriptures and hymns and learned that learning about Jesus could be fun. (Great seminary training, actually!)
When I was about ten, we moved next door to a nice family with what seemed like a bajillion kids, and their daughter Lesley quickly became my best friend. She was a year older than I was, but we played together all the time.
Besides the bajillion kids, their family was kind of weird. They went to church ALL! THE! TIME! Seriously, twice every Sunday and then a couple of times during the week. Also, they ALL went to church. Everybody. Parents and kids. They prayed together every morning and night and at every single meal. The dad was a professor, but also had a job at the church that would keep him out late some nights. They would plan ahead to make treats for him to have when he came home from his late meetings. One day, even though they had a bajillion kids, they prayed together because they felt like there was supposed to be another child in the family. So they all prayed about it. Sure enough, another baby was born the next year. And weirdest of all, even though there were some minor sibling squabbles, they loved each other. Helped each other. Played together. Sang together. Totally weird, right?
This weirdness quickly made their house my favorite place to be because it was the polar opposite of my house. I was there all the time. Best of all, they let me go to church with them any time I wanted. I could go to the Sunday meetings and the weekday meetings!
One day I was playing with Lesley and uttered the Lord’s name in vain. “Oh! Wait! We don’t say that!” she said. “A 14-year-old boy in our church called out to God once, and He actually showed up in real life! So we don’t say that unless we’re praying and ready for Him to show up.” Cured that bad habit!
The day Donny Osmond got married, Lesley’s mom asked my mom if she would like to know more about what I was learning at church with them. She offered to let us come to their house to talk with two sister missionaries who would teach us about what Mormons believe. My thoughts were along the lines of, “Sweet! More church! And more time at their house!” Mom agreed to come for the lessons, too.
It didn’t take long before we were asked if we wanted to be baptized, and we both said we did. It sounded great until the missionaries said we would need permission from my dad. He was against it and said absolutely not. The missionaries suggested that we fast for his heart to be softened.
My mom had a work lunch planned for the day of the fast, but she was prepared to not eat. Imagine her dismay to look up at the restaurant (where she was hungry!) and see the mission leader eating. It seemed like yet another hypocrite who taught one thing, but didn’t live it. She went over to him to ask about it. He explained that he had known about the lunch and started his fast early so that he could eat. She felt better.
After the fast, my dad said, “Oh, I don’t care!” and we took that as permission to be baptized. We were baptized by my friend’s father, and it was a wonderful day.
Since that day, I have been married in the temple and have three fabulous kids born in the covenant. My dad was baptized 20 years after us, my parents were sealed in the temple, and I was sealed to them. One of my cousins and two of my aunts have been baptized. One of the aunts even served a mission with her convert husband. In a funny twist, my daughter invited a friend from school to Activity Days. The friend’s parents went to Mormon.org to learn more about the church before giving permission, and the whole family ended up being baptized, and then being sealed in the temple a year later.
The Church is true. The gospel has been restored. And great missionary work can be done by regular Mormon families by just living what they believe and sharing what they know with others. As grown-ups, when I tell Lesley how much I love and appreciate her family, she shrugs it off like they didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. But they did. And I am thankful for them every single day.